Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
25 Mar

Why Squatting Is So Important (plus Tips on How to Do It Right)

squatting 1Just as we should eat the foods our bodies were designed to eat, we should move our bodies the way they were meant to move and impose the stressors they were meant to bear. That means squatting, and squatting often. Our hips flex, knees bend, and ankles dorsiflex so that we can rest comfortably in a squat position.

Okay, but isn’t the squat a bit outdated? Why not just use a chair?

You’ve probably heard how modern processed foods use refined sugar, salt, and seed oils to hijack our natural desires for fruits, animal fat, and animal meat. They exploit our wiring and provide hyper-stimulation to our senses, prompting massive overconsumption; some refer to this as “Food Reward.” In a similar vein, chairs hijack our anthropometry, which was designed for squatting. Just look at yourself in a chair:

  • Your knees are flexed – same as in a squat.
  • Your hip is in flexion – same as in a squat.
  • Your spine is neutral (unless you’re slumping, which many of us do) – same as in a squat.

Chair sitting is attractive and easy because it doesn’t challenge the way our joints work. It doesn’t place us in unnatural positions. It’s easy to slip into. It hews to our anthropometry. It provides support, so we don’t even have to do or lift anything or worry about engaging our glutes.

I call it “Repose Reward,” and it’s obviously a concerted effort by the chair industry (Big Sit) to keep us dependent on their evil, addictive products! (Please understand I’m mostly kidding.)

The good side of all this is that if you can sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, you can (with some work) squat. It might be hard, because your muscles will actually have to work to maintain the load, and it might take some finagling since some of your joints will feel a little tight, but the position is possible. You just have to learn to support the load.

That’s one big reason to squat – it helps counteract all that sitting we do and lets us tap into a very Primal, very essential mode of repose. But there are many other reasons to squat, too. Let’s explore:

Squatting makes you stronger.

squatting2 1

Pound for pound, squatting is the best bang for your buck strength exercise, hitting many different muscle groups along the way. The obvious ones targeted are the prime movers – the quads, hamstrings, and glutes – but the trunk musculature must stabilize the torso and maintain a neutral spine, all while supporting the load and acting as a fleshy lever. All in all, the squat is a complicated movement that forces the body’s parts to work and grow stronger together as a single unit.

Squatting makes you faster.

Tons of studies confirm that the stronger your squat, the faster you can run. It’s probably not just a “people who are strong and can squat a lot tend to also be faster” kind of thing because research shows that adding weight to an athlete’s squat during the season directly translates to faster sprint speeds.

Squatting makes you jump higher.

It’s no surprise that training your body to stand up tall from a squatting position with extra weight on your back would also improve your ability to keep going past merely standing, also known as jumping. And even though you wouldn’t jump from a deep squat position in real life, training the deep squat (full range of motion) position improves the vertical leap more than regular squatting.

Squatting improves bone mineral density in all age groups.

A recent study found that supervised (by an experienced trainer) weighted squats can help postmenopausal women with osteoporosis or osteopenia improve their bone mineral density in the spine and neck by 2.9% and 4.9%, respectively (in addition to boosting their strength levels by over 150%). That’s huge. Now, imagine the strength of a lifetime squatter’s bones.

Squatting is even beneficial for endurance athletes.

Many endurance enthusiasts have the idea that squatting and other forms of resistance training will make them “bulky” and slow them down, but this simply isn’t the case. When they include resistance training in their regimen, marathoners improve their running economy. And even though their quads do plenty of work on the bike already, endurance cyclists improve their efficiency on the bike when they include heavy “hip flexion” strength training in their program. Reviews of resistance training in endurance runners and road cyclists confirm these results. Another benefit: every endurance athlete benefits from a stronger core.

Things to think about when squatting:

squatting4Squat however’s comfortable for you. You should definitely try to improve your positioning, but you shouldn’t force your body into positions it simply isn’t prepared to reach just so you can attain the “ideal squat.” That might mean you squat with a narrow stance. Or a wider stance. Or maybe your toes are pointing straight forward. Maybe they’re externally rotated a bit. However, if your feet are rotated outward, make sure your arches don’t collapse.

Focus on range of motion, rather than load. Provided you can maintain good technique (don’t sacrifice your form just to get low), squatting deeper with a lighter load is better for the knees, producing greater muscular and tendon adaptations, than squatting more shallowly with a heavier load. In fact, squatting deep with good technique can actually protect your lower extremities from injury.

Avoid knee wraps to boost the amount of weight you can handle, unless you’re a competing powerlifter for whom every extra pound on the bar counts. A recent study suggests that wearing them changes the mechanics of the back squat, alters the targeted musculature, and compromises the integrity of the knee joint.

Single leg squat variations work well. Even though online lifting message boards make it sound impossible to get strong without squatting, single leg squat variations like split squats and lunges are effective replacements that target the same lower body muscles and even result in similarly systemic hormonal responses. One of my employees with a history of knee issues can do fairly heavy lunges of all sorts without any problem, but weighted squats are iffy. I on the other hand never really had an issue with squats, while lunges sometimes gave me problems. It all varies. Do what works.

Body weight squats are good enough, too. Weighted squats will get you strong, no doubt, but it’s not the only way. A recent study out of Japan found that an eight-week program of 100 body weight squats (or “body mass squats,” as they say in the study) each day increased lean mass, vertical jump, and knee muscle strength while lowering body fat in teenage boys. Body weight squats are also incredibly energy intensive, far more than previously assumed, making them a great tool for metabolic conditioning.

Squatting doesn’t have to be exercise. These days, I think of the squat as more of a mobility promoter than anything. In fact, if you can relax in the squat position and use it as a position of repose on a daily basis, your weighted squat performance will improve. Most of the research cited in this post refers to squat exercises, but that’s about all there is in the literature.

squatting3Remember that squatting can take many forms. It’s not just young ripped dudes lifting heavy and leaving chalky slap prints on each other’s backs. Squatting is:

  • Holding onto a post or a doorframe in front of you for support as you squat.
  • Standing up from a chair.
  • Lowering yourself to the toilet – instead of doing a semi-controlled fall.
  • Doing three sets of 5 reps at twice bodyweight.
  • Squatting down to examine an interesting bug on the ground.
  • Laboriously working your way down into a full squat, grimacing all the while as you push out on your inner thighs to make way for your lumbering body.
  • Grandpa doing quarter squats while holding grandma’s hand for support.

It all counts. It all helps. It’s all (variations on) a squat.

At this point in my life, I don’t even do weighted free weight squats, except for some air squats with a weight vest on. I don’t back squat or front squat. I sit in the Grok squat as much as I can, just to stay loose and mobile, but for lower body strength work with the minimum amount of risk I like the leg press and the hack squat machine. So don’t think this post is about squatting a lot of weight. Or any weight. For the vast majority of the squatting world, squatting is a way to pick stuff off the floor, wait for the train, go to the bathroom, or catch up with their friends. For them – and for you, should you choose to pursue the squat – squatting is a basic act of humanity, of movement, of utility. To squat is to be.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Now go squat!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. OK, Im ready to begin… not just squatting but all the movements that Mark suggests in his ebook – Primal Blueprint Fitness. I am clicking the links that take you to youtube to watch the exercises done properly, and they are great.
    However I have one question: Each time Mark shows the progression say from wall assisted squats to pole assisted squats he says something about “once you have mastered the required number of squats you can move onto the next level”.

    What is this magic number? I am unfit, been primal for 2 yrs, do no exercise and have terrible hips and ankles… possibly no glutes at all, so will be starting at the very bottom level.

    How many squats/push ups do I do? Do I do “sets” if so how many sets?

    Is there a magic number to reach before moving on to harder version of exercise? Am I making sense?

    Jane Britton wrote on March 26th, 2014
    • Also… when I click on the overhead press, it says this is a private video… so no instructions for that one? Has it been removed?

      Jane Britton wrote on March 26th, 2014
  2. My favourite squat is in the shower for 5-10 minutes in the morning while the hot water blast over my tight spine and loosens me up nicely

    Brad wrote on March 26th, 2014
  3. OHHHH I found it myself guys.. rolls eyes… although several of the links to youtube still don’t work if anyone knows why that would be awesome…

    Jane Britton wrote on March 26th, 2014
  4. It took me 6 months of practice to be able to squat again.
    I have a feeling that if you played organized sports at young age, (soccer, baseball, etc ) you lost the ability to squat somewhere along the way as your body tried to imitate the “role-models” around you and you stopped moving naturally.

    Looking at our 7 old who has zero interest in organized athletics, his body still moves very very naturally. His classmates that are in sports move strongly compared to him but move their bodies very differently.

    Our little man will put Legos together for hours never coming up,from a deep deep squat. That’s how he sits or he sits on his ankles with his butt. ( remember that from when you were a kid?)

    Just sharing some thoughts and observavations :-)

    Marc

    Marc wrote on March 26th, 2014
  5. I LOVE squats! :)

    Sarah wrote on March 26th, 2014
  6. The question is – Does squatting wears the cartilage in the knees?
    some of the Internet says it does, some says it doesn’t.. anyone have proven scientific data about whether it does or doesn’t?

    Chen wrote on March 26th, 2014
  7. Esther Gokhale thinks it’s too late for you if you didn’t grow up squatting:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtQ1VqGGU74#t=53m

    tam wrote on March 26th, 2014
  8. Our we listening? Just squat through out your day. When waiting, while watching T.V., Waiting for your ride, then picking up your stuff and standing, oh that’s wieght training. Squat a lot!! Don’t sit by pit!!

    John McGee wrote on March 26th, 2014
  9. This year I started a squat routine I made up. Every morning I squat when I get up. January it was 10 a day, February was 20. March 30, and so on. When December gets here I will be doing 120 a day. Looking forward to seeing the results!!

    Yettekov wrote on March 26th, 2014
  10. Er,,, what about the single most important function of squatting -ELIMINATION. Being in a squat is THE correct anatomical position to defecate ( ‘evacuate one’s bowels’ if you prefer euphemisims). I was told that in a squat the top sphincter to the small intestine (ensuring no ‘back flush’) whilst opening the anal sphincter ( allowing easy evacuation) – the opposite of sitting on a chair! The modern invention of the throne toilet was backward move for our health.

    Yvete wrote on March 26th, 2014
  11. I love your citations. Really good. I want to say great article but that just seems to, I don’t know, SP*MMY, it that makes sense.

    So much of what you read on the net lacks serious citations.

    My wife and I a now including squats as part of our training regimen.

    Thanks…. and keep up the citations. Much respect ;)

    Peter.

    Peter wrote on March 26th, 2014
  12. Seen this article makes me wonder.

    Wouldnt it be better and more natural (paleo) to have a squatting desk than a standup desk?

    I think our ancestors stayed more in the squat position than standing up.

    We should promote squating desks!

    AF wrote on March 27th, 2014
  13. Was actually thinking of this this morning going up 4 flight of stairs, 2 at a time.
    Does taking 2 stairs at a time contribute to a partial sqaut, single leg partial – whatever?

    Trevor wrote on March 27th, 2014
  14. This reminds me of last month when I went to South Korea and I’d see all sorts of people doing the “Korean Squat” to alleviate their tired legs. And by all sorts of people I mean everyone ranging from young toddlers barely able to walk to old grandpas and grandmas in colorful outdoor gear climbing mountains at a frightening pace.

    Kinda makes you question where we have gone wrong…

    Christophe wrote on April 7th, 2014
  15. Thanks for these awesome tips on squatting. I didn’t realize it would help with vertical jumping. I have some benchmarks I want to achieve with CrossFit, and one of them is to do a 36″ box jump. So I’ll definitely focus on improving my squats. Thanks again!

    Kris wrote on April 28th, 2014
  16. Only 3 posts entirely dedicated to squatting?
    Here’s something I saw linked to on Facebook from a cool page that posts similar stuff and lots of funny pictures, ” I survived every pandemic and the end of the world, what’s next? “.
    It’s a series of pictures.
    Girls who squat vs. girls who don’t squat.
    It’s not “explicit” but some of them are really scantily clad (think underwear) so you might not want to click this link (if it’s approved, I really don’t see why not) at work or in front of your girlfriend, wife, parents, kids, or whoever else you wouldn’t want seeing it.
    http://wtfmag6.com/girls-who-squat-before-and-after-4

    Animanarchy wrote on June 25th, 2014

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